ORLANDO, Fla. - A Florida judge said he would temporarily block a 15-week abortion ban from taking effect, following a court challenge by reproductive health providers who say the state constitution guarantees a right to the procedure. Judge John C. Cooper made the ruling from the bench on Thursday and said he would soon sign the temporary injunction.
The law was supposed to go into effect on July 1. Florida’s 15-week abortion ban was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis this spring. Judge Cooper, however, said his verbal ruling will not be binding until he signs a written order. That written order could come Tuesday morning.
Cooper drew a distinction between the state constitutional issues in the Florida case and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week that struck down the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion-rights ruling.
"I do think that this order complies with the present state of the law in Florida. And we all know that Roe v. Wade was reversed about a week ago. And the only mention Roe v. Wade should get in this particular case … is that it has indicated the (U.S.) Supreme Court (said) that these decisions are to be made at the state level. That’s what this proceeding is about, is construing a provision of the Florida Constitution," Cooper said.
The privacy clause has played a key role for more than three decades in bolstering abortion rights in Florida. Cooper’s ruling drew reactions from numerous political leaders on both sides of the abortion debate.
Rep. Anna Eskamani tweeted immediately after the judge's decision:
"Judge rules that HB5, FL's 15 week abortion ban, is unconstitutional and violates the privacy provision of the State Constitution & he supports a temporary statewide injunction. His order will not happen until he signs it. An important win for abortion rights in FL."
"Today’s ruling on pro-life HB 5 is disappointing but not unexpected. This issue will need to be resolved in the (Florida Supreme Court), where I hope to see a correct interpretation of the state's privacy clause & HB 5 implemented statewide to save tens of thousands of innocent babies' lives," House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, said in a tweet.
Advocacy groups asked the judge Monday to stop the law following last week's Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. One of the big problems advocates have with the new law is its lack of exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. The judge is set to rule on the case on Thursday.
Under the new law, women could've faced up to 5 years in prison for having an abortion after 15 weeks and doctors could be fined $10,000. Under current law, Florida allows abortions up to 24 weeks.
Abortion rights advocates were in a Tallahassee courtroom this week in an attempt to stop the new law. The legal challenge is that Florida’s constitution guarantees a broad right to privacy.
Opponents say it is up to the state to decide – and they did that by passing the law. Last week, the Supreme Court ended federal protections for abortions.
"We lobbied very heavily for the 15-week abortion ban in the legislature," said Andrew Shirvell with Florida Voice for the Unborn. "It’s clearly the will of the people, through their elected representatives."
One doctor took the stand to say the changes could put women at risk.
"Women and girls who need abortions after 15 weeks are those that tend to have the most challenging and compelling life circumstances," Dr. Shelly Tien with Planned Parenthood said.
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2% of the nearly 72,000 abortions reported in Florida in 2019 were performed after 15 weeks. Data shows the majority of abortions in the state of Florida occur before the 15-week cutoff time.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.